Red Flags at The Altar

A recent on-line article quoted Reese Witherspoon as always having suspected her first marriage would fail. It reminded me of the volumes of similar stories I’ve heard as a lawyer for divorcing clients. Many men and women either confess to literally knowing they were making a mistake at the time of their marriage or at least admitting they ignored their “gut” when they spoke their vows.

What are some of the red flags that we universally choose to ignore when marrying? Here are some examples.
1) WE WERE TOO YOUNG. In the case of Reese Witherspoon she feels that she was simply too young to know what marriage was about. That is a common tale, and there’s a significant amount of truth to too-young marriages leading to divorce. Both parties are still growing into whomever they will eventually be, people mature at different rates, and the younger you are the less you know of survival alone, let alone as a couple. Of course when you are young and in love, you always believe that you will be the unique couple that makes the long journey together. Once in a blue moon, that may even be true. It is untrue often enough however that waiting at least until your mid to late twenties as many are now doing is statistically “safer.”

2) HE/SHE WAS BEHAVING BADLY. Semi-abusive treatment, even in the courtship phase, is a dead giveaway that worse will follow. Whether someone threatens you physically or is even verbally demeaning at a time when you are not yet committed to each other, do not just walk away – run. Why do we stay when there are already signs that there will be verbal and physical trouble in our relationship? The answer is complicated, and psychologists tell lawyers that it has to do with “attachment”…once we feel attached emotionally to a lover, it is surprisingly hard to let go. Be that as it may, such troubled couples should at least contact a counselor before contacting a wedding planner.

3) SOMEHOW I DID NOT TRUST HER/HIM. Everything in a good relationship is about trust. In fact, psychologists lecture that trust and a good sense of humor are two essential ingredients of a good marriage. Any divorcing people tell me that they thought their partner may cheat (either sexually or financially) even before they married but talked themselves out of their suspicions. They told themselves that they were either too jealous or too paranoid, but all the time their stomachs were upset, they had headaches, and other real signs of internal mental and physical stress. The reasons for staying again have to do with “attachment” and self-esteem, but trust is a gut level feeling as well as an intellectual assessment. If you feel something is wrong, this is one time where listening to your instincts and very primitive innards and doing some preliminary investigation of someone’s past and their finances is simply the right thing to do.

4) HE OR SHE DRANK, PARTIED, ET CETERA, MORE THAN I. When couples are dating they can be extremely social…dining out, hanging out in trendy clubs, drinking, partying, and occasionally even breaking some drug related laws. Often one partner drinks or parties more than the other .The trick when dating is to be able to differentiate the just-too-social drinker or pot smoker from the truly dangerous addictive personality. Lives can be ruined with alcohol and drugs and not just the life of the user. Denzel Washington in the movie “Flight” portrayed the unbelievably deceptive talents of a committed addict. They have an uncanny ability to throw you off the scent of their real secret passion which is for substances and not for you. If you even suspect that the one you love is an alcoholic or active user of any addictive substances, get some help in validating your fears…even if in your heart you want to be wrong.

We all hate to acknowledge doubts about the people we have chosen to love and everyone has pre-wedding jitters. Here is an idea: if you do not want to “see” the red flags but have some of the listed issues, consider the flags to be at least yellow and exercise caution before moving forward.

Photo: Flicker scpetrel


About Gemma Allen

Gemma Allen is a partner in Ladden & Allen, Chartered, and has practiced family law for most of her career. Ms. Allen has written more than 50 articles and lectured on topics that include divorce, child support, maintenance, mediation, cohabitation, women and money, and reconciliation. She co-authored The New Love Deal: Everything You Must Know Before Marrying, Moving In, or Moving On! and helps you navigate modern relationships in “Relationship Gems.”